Health Take-Away: As flu season looms, it's time to get vaccinated

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As sure as the first fall frost and the snowflakes that soon will follow, the 2017-2018 flu season is just around the corner, and it's not too early to get vaccinated against influenza (flu), a serious disease which needlessly sickens millions and kills thousands of people each year. For any skeptics who believe the myth that flu shots can give you the flu, follow this column to its conclusion to see why that's just not true.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against flu and its potentially serious complications. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses and save lives, while also reducing hospitalizations, doctor visits and missed work due to flu.

Vaccines for the coming flu season are ready now and there are plenty of places where you can get them, including your physician's office, urgent care facilities and many pharmacies. Most insurance plans cover the vaccine.

For people of all ages, no matter how healthy you normally may be, annual flu vaccination is a wise choice. Getting vaccinated yourself also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Indeed, the importance of vaccination is even greater for the most vulnerable among us:

- Older adults. A study published last year showed that people 50 years and older who got a flu vaccine reduced their risk of getting hospitalized from flu by 57%.

- Children. Another recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced children's risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74% during flu seasons.

- Pregnant women and their infants. Vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. Getting vaccinated also protects the baby several months after birth. A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness in pregnant women found that vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about one half. Another study found that babies of women who got a flu vaccine during their pregnancy were about one-third less likely to get sick with flu than babies in unvaccinated women. This protective benefit was observed for four months after birth.

- People with chronic health conditions. Flu vaccination is a particularly important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79 percent) and chronic lung disease (52 percent).

Finally, for those who have heard others say, "I don't get the flu shot because it gives me the flu," here's the truth of the matter: the flu shot won't give you the flu because it can't, period. It literally lacks the viral fortitude to do so. When a flu vaccine is being manufactured, an agent is added which disrupts the virus' ability to remain whole. As a result, the flu virus breaks up into multiple pieces that are not able to infect you and give you the flu. While it's possible that some patients may experience some mild flu-like symptoms following a shot, these side effects are minor and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu.

So, there's no reason not to — and plenty of reasons to — get yourself and your loved ones vaccinated in preparation for the coming flu season. It's more than worth a shot.

Michael Perreault, M.S.N., R.N., is director of Infection Prevention and Control at Berkshire Medical Center.


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